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BTEC Qualifications

Volume 700: debated on Monday 6 September 2021

6. What steps he is taking to help ensure that students can continue to study for BTEC qualifications in the future. (903321)

23. What recent assessment he has made of the potential impact of removing funding for BTEC qualifications on students wishing to undertake vocational qualifications. (903338)

Employers are facing skills shortages that we must act to address. It is vital in a fast-moving and high-tech economy that technical education closes the gap between what people study and the needs of employers. Our plans for reform of level 3 qualifications were published on 14 July. We will continue to fund high-quality qualifications that can be taken alongside—or as alternatives to—T-levels and A-levels where there is a clear need for skills and knowledge that T-levels and A-levels cannot provide. Those may include some Pearson BTECs, provided that they meet new quality criteria for funding approval.

The DFE’s own impact assessment says that pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds will lose most from scrapping BTEC funding, and that does not fit with what the Government talk about in their levelling-up agenda. Wyke Sixth Form College in Hull North, under the excellent leadership of Paul Britton, currently offers vocational BTECs in areas such as engineering, IT, computing, and health and social care—all highly relevant to our economic needs now. Given the growing problem of skills and labour shortages that the Minister has referred to, is not scrapping BTEC funding, with no tried and tested replacement, both damaging and short-sighted?

We are not scrapping BTEC funding; we are upgrading our level 3 qualification offer to make sure that it keeps in line with the needs of today’s economy. T-levels were in design for many years. They were designed with 250 leading employers who said that the qualifications needed to be upgraded to keep up. Poor-quality qualifications benefit nobody, least of all those who are disadvantaged. All our qualifications will be high-quality and we will make sure that they offer clear progression routes into the workforce or into higher education.

Where learners over the age of 19 are returning to study, the removal of BTEC funding will mean that only those following an academic pathway will have the option to return to study or to skilled employment. How is removing learners’ options to progress to level 3 qualifications and to higher education or employment compatible with the lifetime skills guarantee offer? Can that be right?

To be clear, the level 3 offer will also include T-levels; we are also considering access to those to a broader group. The lifetime skills guarantee is a level 3 offer specifically focused on adults that was introduced in April this year in more than 400 courses, all of which address a skills shortage. We are trying to make sure that when people put their time, and sometimes their own money, into study, it offers value to them and to the workplace. That is what is behind our level 3 qualifications review.

Does my hon. Friend agree that the outstanding work done by Lackham College in Chippenham—the constituency of my hon. Friend the Minister for Universities—with regard to land-based training, agriculture, horses and animal handling, must be recognised in every possible way, and that many of these people deserve a BTEC? Will she also give some further thought to the question of how they fund resits, which at the moment are entirely unfunded?

My hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Michelle Donelan) and I went to visit Lackham very recently and were delighted to see its investment in agritech facilities, which are groundbreaking and world class. It will mean that young people in that area will have the opportunity to study the very latest technology and techniques that will be required for our agriculture industry. In addition, there will also be a land management and agriculture T-level, which has been designed with the industry sector to make sure that many people across the country get the opportunity to study at that level with that investment.

Some 230,000 students have just studied BTEC level 3 qualifications. For the Minister to stand there, as she just has, and dismiss those qualifications as poor quality will disgust those students and many of the people who have supported them. The Minister suggests she has widespread support, but 86% of respondents to the Department for Education’s own consultation disagreed with the Government’s plan to scrap funding for qualifications that overlapped with T-levels. Even the former Conservative Education Secretary, Lord Baker described it as

“an act of educational vandalism.”

Why are the Government intent on removing the ladder of opportunity from so many students, particularly those from the most deprived communities, when there is such widespread opposition to this move?

I assure the hon. Gentleman that I would definitely not dismiss the BTEC qualification or its quality, and the reason I would not is that I am one of the very few people in this place who has taken a BTEC as part of their apprenticeship. I very much appreciated my BTEC as part of my apprenticeship, as I did my other qualifications.

T-levels are unashamedly rigorous. They are high-quality qualifications, and there is no point giving access to qualifications that are out of date and have not kept up with the requirements of the workforce. The skills gap between what our employers need and what young people study should not be there. This is an employer-led system. I will tell the House what is a tragedy—a tragedy is having young people not able to get on in the workplace because they have spent two or three years studying something that does not offer the value that employers need in this high-tech economy.